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Recipe Secrets: Keralan Banana Dessert

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When you have a glut of something, what do you? Some cooks say that the best and most creative recipes come from times of abundance – bananas being a case in point.

Home cook Mary Samuel grew up on a tea plantation near Dengkil, about 40 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur. Her mother always cultivated many banana trees and it was up to the rest of the household to find creative ways to use them during harvest season. The family was originally from Kerala, and Mary says the southern Indian state would often experience a similar glut.

“In Malaysia, typically you make cekodok [with bananas], but we [Keralans] have our own type of dessert,” says 73-year-old Mary, referring to a sweet banana fritter made from overripe bananas that are mashed into round shapes and deep fried.

In her childhood home, they found a different way to make the most of the banana glut:  Keralan caramelised banana ghee roast.

The name of the dessert is a mouthful to pronounce, but Mary assures that it’s delicious. The caramelised banana ghee roast is also notable in that it’s not typically available in restaurants: the dish is usually made only for special occasions, like birthdays or celebratory dinners.

A home favourite, the Keralan dessert is served as a sweet ending to a sumptuous meal to balance the typically spicy and rich flavours. Some online food blogs favour it for breakfast or as an afternoon snack.

Bananas being roasted in ghee.

Right and ripe bananas

Mary’s first tip is to pick the right type of banana. Choose pisang tanduk (plantains) for its firmness and slight sour tinge.

If pisang tanduk is not available, she recommends using pisang berangan, which literally translates as dream bananas. This variety is firm, slightly more starchy in texture and has a pleasing acidity.

“If using pisang berangan, use the ripest bananas you find. You know, the ones you find in the market with the black spots,” Mary says.

Pisang berangan is another good alternative because it holds its shape after cooking.

Keralan Caramelised Banana Ghee Roast

Makes four portions

10 ripe bananas (pisang tanduk or pisang berangan)

A pinch of cloves

Four teaspoons of ghee (clarified butter)

Two teaspoons of sugar (optional)

A squeeze of lemon (optional)

  1. Slice a banana lengthwise into 1 centimetre thick pieces.
  2. Heat up a non-stick pan on low and add the first teaspoon of ghee.
  3. Roast the banana until caramelised, turning the fruit to avoid too much colour on one side. Keep an eye on the pan to avoid overcooking or burning the fruit.
  4. When the first banana is cooked, cut a new banana and repeat the cooking process.
  5. After the second or third banana, sprinkle the cloves into the pan.
  6. Once cooked, set the bananas aside in a bowl and remove the excess ghee.
  7. Cool the dish to room temperature. Before serving, use a plate to cover the bowl. Turn the bowl upside down on to the plate for a decorative effect.

Jazzing up the dish

Mary says there are ways to reduce the amount of ghee used in the dish.

“You can use olive oil with just a touch of ghee instead,”

And for those who enjoy a touch of alcohol in their dessert, Mary’s tip is to add brandy and flambe it – something she says will definitely impress your guests.

The cloves are an Indian touch to the dish. Mary says they can be paired with cardamom seeds ( avoid powder), but she sticks to cloves only because not everyone likes the strong flavour of cardamom.

Some cooks may want to layer the caramelised bananas with sugar. This adds more sweetness to the dish, but some might find it a bit overpowering given the natural sweetness of the ripe bananas.

Finally, Keralan caramelised banana ghee roast can be eaten cold but most prefer it warm. If you’ve prepared it in advance, heat the dish in the oven before serving it to guests.

Cover photo by Lotte Löhr on Unsplash

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